Atlanta Restaurant Bucket List: King + Duke

A few months ago, I posted about my Atlanta Restaurant Bucket List. I have a good friend in Atlanta who is always down to go on foodie adventures with me, and every few months I try to get back over to Atlanta to check some more restaurants off the list.

This past weekend, I had to go to Atlanta for a friend’s party, so I came in a night before to check a restaurant off the list. Prior to my visit, I had sent my friend the list and told him to just pick one and make reservations. He chose King + Duke, another Ford Fry masterpiece (last time we visited The Optimist), this one focused on open-hearth seasonal cooking.

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We like to go all out on our meals together, so of course we never can pass up drinks or starters. K+D has an incredible craft cocktail menu and I was immediately drawn to the Duke “James and the Giant Peach.” With Buffalo Trace Bourbon, honey roasted peaches, lemon, and mint, it was so refreshing and a cocktail I could drink all summer long.

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With some many great starter options on the menu, we couldn’t choose just one, so we opted for three: Deviled Eggs, Pimiento Cheese Hushpuppies, and Avocado Toast. Had we known we would also be getting Yorkshire pudding as the complimentary bread offering, we probably didn’t need to indulge so much, but we couldn’t resist! And can I just interject here that Ford Fry is a master with his breads? The Yorkshire pudding was so deliciously eggy and warm inside with a crisp outside and just pure perfection. Remember my last Atlanta post where I raved about his dinner rolls at the Optimist?!

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Ok, back to the appetizers. The deviled eggs had an incredibly creamy yolk filling, the pimiento cheese hushpuppies were moist and served over a bed of homemade pimiento cheese and topped with a spicy pepper jelly, and the avocado toast was incredibly fresh with micro greens, salty ricotta salata, and crunchy radish on top of avocado mash smeared on a thick slab of crusty bread. And aren’t they all so beautiful?!

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For my entree, I ordered the Springer Mountain (half) Chicken. It was phenomenal. It had a roasted-on-the-hearth taste that gave it a smoky, earthy flavor. The chicken was moist and the skin was just slightly crisped. It was served over panzanella, but we’d had so much bread in our appetizers, I really just focused on the chicken.

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My friend ordered the Duck “Coq au vin,” and while I can’t speak on it because I don’t like duck, he said the chicken was much better. Although, the roasted summer vegetables it came with were great.

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For our dinner side (as if we needed any more food), we got the Heirloom Tomato salad. Oh my lawd. This was hands-down the best tomato salad I have ever had. We couldn’t get enough of it. It was full of gorgeous, colorful heirloom tomatoes and cherry tomatoes, mixed with cucumbers and topped with shaved pecorino cheese. AND THE DRESSING — literally could not get enough. It was a peppercorn dressing with such a rich, milky flavor that complemented the tomatoes perfectly. After we ate all the tomatoes, we started taking pieces of bread from my panzanella and dipping in it (so much for too much bread). We even took home what remained of the sauce to eat with my leftover chicken.

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And then because how could we come this far and not have dessert?! We ordered the Sticky Toffee Pudding with Vanilla Ice Cream. Again, incredible. Did we need it? No. Are we glad we got it? Hell. Yeah.

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Definitely check out King + Duke next time you’re in Atlanta. Request to be seated on the patio if the weather is nice. We sat outside and it is a lovely place for happy hour, drinks, or dinner.

A New Addition

The next morning for breakfast, my friend took me to a place that wasn’t originally on my bucket list, but he informed me it should be. Home Grown has been around in Atlanta for a long time, serving up breakfast and lunch made from local produce, but at an affordable price. It’s your typical no-frills Southern joint, and has become a staple for down home Southern cooking; even the likes of Presidents have visited.

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We went Sunday morning and waited for about 25 minutes for a table, but not to worry, Home Grown puts out coffee for those who just can’t wait for their table. We were eventually seated in a cozy table in the back, across from the consignment thrift store housed in the back of the restaurant! Such a unique atmosphere.

We all ordered the Comfy Chicken Biscuit because it’s one of their specialties and it couldn’t have been a more perfect Southern breakfast. Thin sliced chicken cutlets were fried in a crispy, peppery batter and served over fluffy biscuits, and topped with an incredible sausage gravy. The gravy was just as rich as you’d hope it to be, but wasn’t too heavy or salty. I ate every single bite of my dish. And now I’m craving it again. Why am I writing this while I’m hungry?!

Anyway, I’m so glad my friend introduced me to Home Grown and I highly recommend you all add it to your ATL Bucket Lists!

Stay tuned for more posts in the future as I regularly update my restaurant list!

A Foodie Weekend in New York City

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Happy Tuesday everyone! I just returned from an amazing, food-filled trip to New York City. I’ve been to the big city numerous times for numerous reasons in numerous seasons – Christmas trips, visits with relatives, job interviews, school trips, mission work, random fall weekends – but this was primarily a FOODIE WEEKEND! I had a US Airways companion pass that I needed to use by June 30, so my friend and I decided to head up to NYC to have a food- and drink-filled girls weekend. I have a lot of friends from college living in the city so it was also a great reunion with good friends I hadn’t seen in a couple of years.

We stayed in a friend’s beautiful apartment in the Upper East Side and enjoyed being able to walk to Central Park and great restaurants in the area. Since the friend who came with me and I had both been to the city before, we didn’t need to fill our time with tourist activities. I put together the perfect foodie itinerary for us so we got a taste of quite a few different neighborhoods around Manhattan. I’ve broken down where we ate by neighborhood, and would highly recommend all of these places!

Lower East Side

Russ & Daughters Cafe
This cafe is an off-shoot of the original Russ & Daughters shop specializing in smoked fish, caviar, and bagels and bialys. We couldn’t go to NYC without getting a bagel, so Russ & Daughters Cafe was our first stop for lunch when we got in on Friday. I got the Classic Board with a bialy and smoked salmon, cream cheese, tomatoes, onions, and capers. The salmon had the perfect smoked taste, the tomatoes were so fresh, and the bialy was amazing. If you don’t know, a bialy is similar to a bagel, but only has the hole in the top and is just baked instead of boiled and then baked. My friend got the Shtetl Board with smoked sable (black cod), goat cream cheese, tomato, onion, and capers. We also got housemade Blueberry Basil sodas to wash it all down with.

Stanton Social
Stanton social is a gourmet small plates restaurant that my New York friend said we absolutely had to go to. We took his advice and made dinner reservations for Saturday night. The three-story restaurant was packed and had a really cool and trendy atmosphere. Since it’s small plates, you order a bunch of dishes to share, and they come out as they’re ready, instead of all at once. There were four of us (one vegetarian, sorry Eva) and they told us 8-10 dishes were typical for 4 people but we decided to start with 6 and see how we felt after that. My favorites were the phenomenal Potato & Goat Cheese Pierogies with caramelized onions and truffle creme fraiche; the French Onion Soup Dumplings covered by a layer of baked melted cheese; and the Mexican Street Corn Ravioli with roasted poblano crema, jalapeño, cotija, and cilantro.

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French Onion Soup Dumplings

Everything we had though was delicious. The other dishes we got were Red Snapper Tacos, Chicken Arepas, and Chicken and Waffles that had Louisiana hot sauce butter that I want to put on all things, always. We felt totally satisfied after the 6 dishes, but I think it depends on what dishes you order (also our vegetarian friend obviously wasn’t eating all of them). It seemed like the dishes on the left side of the menu were a lot smaller than the ones on the right side, so I think it’s a matter of whether you order 6 little dishes or 6 larger dishes.

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Arepas and Mexican Street Corn Ravioli

The cocktails were also amazing. We tried the Strawberry Fields with Grey Goose Citron, muddled fresh strawberries, lemon syrup, fresh lemon, and a Riesling floater; and the Notorious F.I.G with Bulleit Bourbon, fresh fig, pear-cinnamon syrup, and fresh lemon.

Strawberry Fields Cocktail with pierogies to the right

Strawberry Fields Cocktail with pierogies to the right

Beauty and Essex
This was the coolest speakeasy lounge/bar right around the corner from Stanton Social. It doesn’t look like much from the outside and you walk through a pawn shop to get to it, but inside, it’s a huge three story lounge and restaurant that looks like a mansion. There are crystal chandeliers in every room, leather couches, and a grand staircase leading upstairs. It was packed. They have a list of handcrafted cocktails, and I opted for The Geoffrey with Milagro reposado tequila, cinnamon St. Germain, lemon, and Magners Cider. It tasted like an updated margarita, so of course I loved it.

Upper East Side

Felice 64
My friend whose apartment we were staying at recommended this Italian restaurant and wine bar for our dinner Friday night. We went to see An Act of God with Jim Parsons (Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory!) and were looking for some place to do a late dinner after since we’d had a late lunch. Felice 64 was just a block away from where we were staying, so it was perfect. I ordered the Risotto alle Capesante which was carnaroli rice risotto tossed in broccoli purée and served with seared scallops, buffalo ricotta cheese and lemon zest. It reminded me of my favorite pasta my grandma makes. It was delicious and I loved that they sliced the scallops up and mixed them in with the risotto. My friend ordered the Fusilli al Ferretto with homemade tomato sauce and burrata cheese. Also great – the pasta was homemade and the tomato sauce tasted very authentic. Plus burrata cheese is my favorite! (Sorry for the bad picture — the light was basically non-existent inside.)

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Cascabel Taqueria
We went here for brunch on Sunday because we couldn’t leave New York without doing bottomless brunch. And what goes better with bottomless brunch than Mexican food?! This taqueria offers refined Mexican street food and bottomless drinks for only $15 (a really good deal considering most drinks in NYC cost $15 for one). The best thing about the bottomless deal is that you can try as many of the eight drink options as you want — you’re not confined to just one drink. We tried the Sangria, La Lola (grapefruit juice, cava, and aperol), and the El Capitan (cava, passionfruit, and domain de canton). They were all so good! For food, I ordered the Chilaquiles with chicken and fried eggs and my friends got the Carnitas Benedict on cornbread with chipotle hollandaise. Everything was delicious!

Little Italy

Ferrara
Ferrara is a famous Italian bakery that you have probably heard of before. They have the best cannolis you’ll ever have. I always get the chocolate dipped ones. I also love their lobster tail pastries. They are huge and stuffed with so much cream they feel like they weigh two pounds each! You can get mini ones, too, but who wants that?! Go here for dessert and coffee one night or grab a sweet afternoon snack.

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Nolita

Cafe Habana
This little Cuban cafe has become known for their Mexican-style Grilled Corn and the affordable price they offer great food at (corn is only $3). There is a sit-down part of the restaurant and also a to-go counter around the corner where you can grab and go. We stopped in for an afternoon snack of the corn. It really is served true Mexican-style, grilled and coated with Cotija cheese and a sprinkle of hot chile powder on top. Be careful — the chile powder is very spicy, but you can always order it without. I wanted to eat this corn every day! We also got a side of plantains because I can never resist plantains.

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Chelsea // Chelsea Market

On Saturday, we went to Chelsea Market, a specialty food and product market, for lunch. We sampled dishes from a few different places. Here were my favorites:

Los Tacos No. 1
This place probably had the longest line but trust me, it’s worth it to wait in it. These are true Mexican and West Coast-style tacos, and the Carne Asada taco I had was one of the best I’ve ever had. The steak was so tender and flavorful, and was topped with guacamole, salsa, and onions and wrapped up in a corn (or flour if you prefer) tortilla. My friends also loved the Pollo Asado and Nopal (a type of edible cactus) tacos.

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Mŏkbar
We have a lot of ethnic food options in Birmingham, but traditional ramen is not one of them, so I knew I wanted to have some while I was in NYC. Luckily, we came across Mŏkbar in the market, serving Korean-style ramen. I got the Classic with pork broth, braised pork, and seasonal vegetables which included greens and mushrooms and added a poached egg to it. The pork was incredibly tender and flavorful, as was the broth. So much better than ramen from Cup Noodles!

Mokbar Ramen and Carne Asada taco from Los Tacos

Mokbar Ramen and Carne Asada taco from Los Tacos

Doughnuttery
This place makes the cutest mini donuts and you can watch them being fried right in front of you. You have the option to coat them in a variety of flavored sugars. We got a dozen and tried them in flavors of Urban Monkey, Mulled Green Apple Cider, Cheeky Peach, and Fruity Cereal. They were all really good and we loved their little bite-sizeness. The best part though was the Beer Caramel that we got to dip them in. It really tasted like beer mixed with caramel and it was amazing, especially with the Mulled Green Apple Cider donut.

Pro Tip: After you fill up at Chelsea Market, walk it off on the High Line right near by — the elevated park on an old railroad track. It’s beautiful and has great views of the Empire State Building.

Financial District

Loopy Doopy
If you venture down to the Financial District (I know you want to see the new Freedom Tower), this rooftop bar at the Conrad Hotel serves alcohol-infused People’s Pops in glasses of Prosecco. Yes, you read that right. I will now be dipping all my popsicles in Prosecco. You choose your flavor of pop and then they drop it in the glass and you can enjoy it and beautiful views of the Hudson and Lady Liberty. I opted for the Pear Vanilla pop and my friends got Peach Ginger and Blackberry Mint. It’s also fun because the pop you choose flavors your Prosecco. But this isn’t a place to stay and drink all day — these cocktails will set you back $20 (before tip). Definitely a one and done place!

Let me know some of your favorite foodie spots in the Big Apple!

Friday Lunch Edition: Miss Myra’s Pit Bar-B-Q

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There is no shortage of good barbecue places in Birmingham. If you ask around, everyone has their favorite, and you’ll often hear Saw’s BBQ and Miss Myra’s Pit Bar-B-Q topping the lists. I’ve already written about Saw’s, and you can read that here, but today I went to MIss Myra’s with a couple of friends.

When you walk into Miss Myra’s, the smell from the barbecue smoker overwhelms you, which means you’ve found a good place since they’re smoking the meat fresh daily, all day. We watched guys constantly going outside to the wood pile to get more wood for the smoker.

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As with most barbecue places, Miss Myra’s is no frills. There are knick-knacks and little decorative pigs all throughout the restaurant and on the walls. You order at the counter from a menu on an old marquee board. Your food is served to you on a cafeteria tray with plastic utensils, and the tables are covered with advertisements from local businesses.

Miss Myra’s is known for their smoked chicken and white sauce (an Alabama specialty barbecue sauce), so I opted for the chicken sandwich with a side of potato salad, and their famous banana pudding for dessert. The chicken was so good, and had a great smoked taste. The white sauce was perfect. I hate white sauces that are too thick and taste too mayonnaise-y but this was the perfect balance of flavors. However, I ended up just eating the chicken out of the sandwich and disregarding the bread because it overwhelmed the flavor of the meat.

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If you like mustard-based potato salad, you’ll love Miss Myra’s. The potatoes are chopped up very small, and tossed in a mustard and relish mixture. It was perfectly creamy without being too saucy.

The banana pudding was also really good. It had sizable chunks of vanilla wafers and bananas and was topped with a homemade meringue. There is no better way to end a barbecue meal than with banana pudding!

And, like most down-home barbecue places, Miss Myra’s won’t break the bank – I got my sandwich, potato salad, and banana pudding for $10. So if you are in the Cahaba Heights area for lunch, definitely make Miss Mrya’s part of your routine. Just plan to smell like a barbecue smoker for the rest of the day. 🙂

Travel Tuesday: Planning a trip to Bald Head Island, North Carolina

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Hello lovelies! Sorry it seems like I’ve been MIA for the past week or so. Last week was crazy busy as I prepared to head up to North Carolina for 5 days for a good friend’s wedding. The wedding was in Bald Head Island, which is definitely one of the more unique coastal destinations I’ve been to. There are no cars allowed on the island, and there are also no hotels, so it can be a little daunting to try to plan a vacation there, so I’m sharing some insider tips of things you will want to know if you are planning to take a trip to this lush little island.

Although it may seem like a hassle to get there, it’s worth it. The island is extremely beautiful and serene and is a great option for those wanting to get away from it all. The 4 square miles the island covers consist of a number of different environments — you’ll find wide, sandy beaches, expansive marshes (keep an eye out for alligators!), and thick foresty areas with lush vegetation and Spanish moss draped trees. There is plenty to do, from relaxing on the beach to fishing to hiking to kayaking to visiting Old Baldy, the oldest standing lighthouse in the state.

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Bald Head Island is definitely a more exclusive destination, and it’s important to factor in all the costs associated with going. I’m going to break down some of those costs for you, and also give you some things to consider when planning your trip.

Getting There

Bald Head Island is accessible by ferry from Deep Point Marina in Southport, NC. The ferry is a passenger ferry (obviously since cars aren’t allowed), and you park your car and leave it at the ferry port for $8 a day. A ferry ticket (return trip included) will cost you $23 per person. You can check as much luggage as you want free of cost, as long as everything is contained in a suitcase/bag or plastic bin. Ferries to the island leave on the hour, and ferries from the island leave on the half hour.

To get from the ferry port to your accommodation, you will need to make reservations on the complimentary tram. You do not need to make ferry reservations, but you will need to make tram reservations because seats fill up fast. To do this, you can contact Bald Head Island Transportation (910-457-5003). In busy season, I would suggest calling the day before you need the tram, otherwise 2-3 hours is fine in off season. You just tell them what ferry you will be taking and where you are staying and it will be there to pick you up when you arrive at the port. The same goes for your trip home. Make reservations in advance and the tram will pick you and your luggage up at your accommodations and take you to the ferry port.

Staying There

There are no hotels or high-rise condo buildings on the island, so your best bet is to rent a beach house. I think there might be one B&B, but other than that, it’s all owner-rented homes. Some good resources to find homes are VRBO, HomeAway, Tiffany’s Rentals, and Bald Head Island’s site.

Consider what you’re looking for in your rental. If you want a private escape, look for homes tucked off of the smaller streets in the wooded areas. You might even spot a deer or two. For easy access to some of the boardwalks and trails, stay along the marsh. If you plan to spend most of your days enjoying the sun and sand, there are homes that are beachfront or right across from beach access.

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I stayed in the Bald Head Island Villas, which were super convenient to everything, especially the Bald Head Island Club (where many of the wedding events where held). These villas are right across the street from the beach, and are smaller, 3-bedroom homes. Ours overlooked a pond and golf course. It was about a 5 minute golf cart drive to the market and shops, and about 7 minutes to the restaurants and Old Baldy Lighthouse.

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I believe most rentals come with golf carts, but make sure of this before committing to anything. If they don’t have carts, or if you need extras, you can rent them from Riverside Adventure Company on the island.

Eating There

There are only a few restaurants on the island, and they can be a little pricey because they are the only ones, so if you’re staying for a week, I would consider cooking in some nights.

Mojo’s on the Harbor is classic coastal dining, with seafood entrees, pasta, burgers, and sandwiches. For entrees, expect to spend $20 and up per entree.The burgers are a good, less expensive option. They are very sizable and the fries that come with them are delicious. Mojo’s also has a good selection of cocktails, but things can get quite pricey if you start throwing back more than one. They range anywhere from $9 for a mojito to $15 for a margarita.

Delphina Cantina serves Latin cuisine with the influence of fresh seafood, and is a littler cheaper than Mojo’s. You’ll find tacos, burritos, tortas, and entrees such as fish and chips, seafood enchiladas, and cubanos. I really enjoyed the BHI Favorite tacos with tequila marinated shrimp, jicama slaw, watercress, and chimichurri sauce ($13 for two tacos). We got a pitcher of white sangria for $22, which yielded about 6 wine glasses worth.

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The Maritime Market Cafe, located inside the market, also has breakfast and sandwiches for lunch. There are also grab-and-go breakfast options like muffins and donuts. The market has a selection of groceries if you need anything, but regular products are a little overpriced, so I would suggest doing your major grocery shopping on the mainland and bringing it over in a cooler on the ferry with you.

The Bald Head Island Club also has a few restaurants but you have to be a member to dine with them. Some home rentals include a temporary membership to the club. Check with your rental company to see if it’s included for you.

Sandpiper Coffee and Ice Cream is great if you’re in the mood for a sweet treat after the beach or a little afternoon pick me up.

Things to Consider

-The beaches in North Carolina don’t truly get warm until the end of April, and it will take a little longer than that for the water to warm up. Peak season starts at Memorial Day, but you will be able to get better rates before that, and the weather probably will have warmed up a month or so prior.

-Bald Head Island is a favorite for golfers. If you plan on golfing, consider renting a home that includes a temporary membership to the BHI Club. If the home doesn’t include it, you can purchase a guest membership.

-If croquet is more your style, the BHI Club also has a regulation croquet court. But if you want to play, you have to wear all white and have your croquet cleats on (I mean, who doesn’t have these in their closet?).

-There is no liquor store on the island. The market sells beer and wine, but if you’re wanting to mix up your own cocktails, make sure to bring liquor with you.

-And speaking of liquor…getting a DUI on a golf cart is the same as getting a DUI in the car. There are police, and they will pull you over if you’re driving your golf cart a little too crazy. Same goes for open container. Don’t drink and golf cart, y’all.

Hopefully these tips will help you in planning and preparing for your vacation to Bald Head Island! A good resource to see upcoming events and plan some outdoor adventure activities once you get there is Bald Head Island’s site.

And now, here are some pictures of the beautiful wedding I attended! They’re just too pretty not too share. Bald Head was such a gorgeous setting for a destination wedding. The ceremony was held outside on the grounds of Old Baldy Lighthouse, and the reception was at the Bald Head Island Club. Enjoy and let me know if you are planning a trip to Bald Head!

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Friday Lunch Edition: Melt Avondale

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I have a confession to make. I’m not a huge fan of Melt Food Truck.

When I moved down here and people kept talking about this grilled cheese truck, I was so excited to try it. A gourmet grilled cheese truck?! How could I not love it?

But unfortunately it did not live up to the hype. There are really only one or two sandwiches I could classify as grilled cheeses on the menu; everything else is just a hot sandwich. I’ve given it so many chances to be what it could be, but it’s just not. And it’s not like the sandwiches are bad, but when you’re expecting a buffalo grilled cheese and you get a sandwich with two whole chicken tenders and one slice of cheese on it or an “open-faced” caprese sandwich that is actually a pizza, it’s a little misleading.

So when Melt opened a restaurant in Avondale, I was reluctant to try it. HOWEVER, I have to say, after my first trip today, that Melt functions much better as a restaurant than a food truck. As a brick-and-mortar, I think Melt has evolved into more of a restaurant with specialty sandwiches, salads, and appetizers instead of holding on to the grilled cheese label.

I took my little sister because I knew it was a menu she would like, and we were both impressed. It has a great atmosphere and a nice screened in porch to take advantage of in the warm weather.

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I planned on getting just the regular grilled cheese with a side of tomato basil soup, but when the waiter mentioned the special flatbread they had today, I changed my mind. I thought I would give something else a chance since I hadn’t previously been impressed with the truck’s sandwiches.

The flatbread had mozzarella cheese, grilled chicken, pecans, apples, and a bacon balsamic drizzle. It came with a side salad with heirloom tomatoes and some sort of herb vinaigrette.

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It was really good! The flatbread was crispy, the chicken was real white meat chicken and had a good marinated flavor, and the bacon balsamic drizzle had a really nice herby taste that complemented the chicken, cheese, and pecans. The salad and dressing was also good, and the tomatoes tasted so fresh.

My sister got the Mac Melt, which is mac and cheese in a grilled cheese on Texas Toast. This was the first thing I ever tried from the truck, and was so disappointed. It was just dry mac and cheese sandwiched between bread, but I was happy to see they had improved it for the restaurant.

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The mac and cheese was so creamy, and there was also additional cheese melted on the sandwich, which kept it from being dry like the first sandwich I had. It was really good. Obviously it’s a carb overload, but if you’re looking for a splurge dish, this would be it.

And speaking of splurge dishes…we decided to order dessert to satisfy our sweet cravings. We opted for (there’s always money in) the Banana Stand, which is Nutella and bananas melted between Texas Toast, sprinkled with powdered sugar and drizzled with clover honey. So sinful; so good.

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So if you haven’t been to Melt the restaurant, I would definitely give it a try. It’s a great place to take a lingering lunch or hang out at on the weekends. But if you do go for lunch during the week, expect that you might have to wait a little. We got there around 12:30pm and were told it would be a 35 minute wait. It turned out to only be about 15-20 minutes, but just factor in that that might happen.

Travel Tuesday: The Best Pizza in Naples, Italy

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(Also known as: The pizza that ruined my life.)

Since 2/3 of my family is in Italy right now (they left me and my littlest sister at home — don’t bring it up), I thought it was fitting to do a Travel Tuesday post on Italy since it’s been on my brain lately. I’ve been fortunate enough to have traveled through Italy quite extensively, north to south, coast to coast and I could write an individual blog post on each of the 12 cities/towns I’ve visited since each has its own unique characteristics. But today I decided to take a foodie spin on things.

Italy is a place very close to my heart. My family hails from Italy, and I’m a second generation American. On my last trip to Italy, I even got to visit my relatives over there and see the town my grandma and relatives were raised in. And boy, is that a hysterical story. But we’ll save that one for another day. Today, we’re talking about pizza!

Prior to visiting my relatives on my most recent trip, my travel buddy and I stopped in Naples for a couple of days as we made our way south. I had heard mixed reviews of Naples – can be a little bit of a rough city, but worth it for the pizza. And I am not one to pass up on a foodie experience, so we added it to our itinerary and I’m so glad we did. They say the best pizza comes from Naples and I have to say, I agree.

Have you ever had something so good that it ruined you for that type of food from anywhere else? Well I have, and it was this pizza from the famous L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele. It’s been around since 1870 and hasn’t changed a thing about the pizza recipe throughout the years — Grandfather Michele’s tradition of leavening the dough and using only natural ingredients still stands.

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L’Antica is a no-frills place. The walls are white, the floor is white, and the tables are formica. If you go at lunchtime or dinnertime, you’ll probably have to wait forever in line (but it will be worth it). We went around 3pm, and waited maybe 20 minutes. There are only two types of pizza at L’Antica – Margherita and Marinara (sans cheese). These are the two traditional Neapolitan pizza styles; no added veggies, no added meat, no funky toppings.

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I ordered the Margherita because I can’t fathom eating pizza without cheese, but one of our local friends ordered the Marinara style. You get an individual pizza, which is common in most Italian pizza joints, and you are expected to eat the entire thing. Don’t ever insult an Italian cook by not eating all of their food! The pizzas are huge and definitely more than enough for one person, but I ate every single bite because after the first bite, there was no way I was letting this go to waste.

(Thanks to my travel bud Danielle Brown for this photo)

(Thanks to my travel bud Danielle Brown for this photo)

Remember in Eat Pray Love where Elizabeth Gilbert says she’s having a relationship with her pizza? Yep, this is the place she goes to. And I can say, without a doubt, I understand what she means when she says that. It was so perfectly simple but so perfectly cooked and so perfectly tasty and just so perfectly everything. Neapolitan pizza is characteristically known for having a thin, chewy crust. This is not typical of our pizzas here in America. We normally have thick and chewy or thin and crispy. But a thin, chewy, and doughy crust is quite possibly my favorite. The crust is slathered with a thin layer of sweet and tangy tomato sauce and then topped with melted pearls of fresh mozzarella, garnished with a single basil leaf.

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I ate every. single. bite. And I’ll always remember my friends cheering me on as I took that final bite of that final piece. This pizza has both made my life and also ruined my life, because now I can never be fully satisfied with pizza that is not from L’Antica. Also did I mention these pizzas only cost €4-5??

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If you are visiting Naples, or considering planning a trip to southern Italy, you have got to factor L’Antica into your trip. Trust me, it’s worth it for the life changing pizza. And Naples is also going through a bit of resurgence. The city gets a bad rap for being a little dangerous, and while there are rough parts of town, there are also beautiful areas of the city, such as the trendy dining district along the waterfront. You just have to know the parts to avoid and you’ll be fine (and most locals can tell you this). Also the gorgeous views of Mount Vesuvius over the harbor don’t hurt either!

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Other foodie delights in Naples:

Pizza isn’t the only thing Naples is known for. They also make some fabulous pastries. There are a number of varieties typical to Naples, but my favorite were Sfogliatelle and Baba au Rhum. Sfogliatelle is kind of like an extravagant croissant made from flaky layers similar to puff pastry. It is crispy, intricate, and filled with a custard ricotta mixture. Baba au Rhum are little cakes soaked in rum syrup. These pastries are the perfect sweet treat on an Italian morning (or afternoon, or night).

Friday Lunch Edition: Ranelli’s Deli

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Ranelli’s Deli is one of those places that if you saw it, you probably wouldn’t give much of a second thought about it. I’d driven by it a million times and noticed there were always a lot of cars in the parking lot, but never thought to go there until I started hearing great things about this little Italian deli.

Ranelli’s has been a landmark in Birmingham’s Southside area for more than 40 years, and when you walk in, you can see that it is still a favorite of locals and those who have been going there for years. The ten or so tables inside consisted of elderly men gathering with their friends, good ol’ boys chowing down on sub sandwiches, and young professionals meeting for lunch.

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The walls are plastered with old photos, jazz concert posters, and article clippings. White boards with the handwritten menu hang from the ceiling. Ranelli’s is famous for their Richman Po’Boy – a loaf of Italian bread stuffed with ham, corned beef, peppered beef, Swiss cheese, pastrami, salami, and Provolone and topped with their housemade olive salad – but I opted for a different menu choice since I despise olives and anything that tastes like them (I’m not a picky eater but olives are an absolute no-can-do for me).

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I ordered the meatball sub because it seemed like an appropriate place to do so, and it was really good. Of course, no meatballs can beat my Italian family’s generational secret recipe, but these were a pretty good option for when I’m in need of a quick meatball fix. I got the small sub (6-inches), and it had 3 huge meatballs covered in sauce and sprinkled with Parmesan cheese. The meatballs were very flavorful and the sauce definitely tasted homemade. I liked that there was sauce underneath the meatballs on the bread, as well as on top of them. The bread they used was very fresh and had a great taste. I got the salad and drink combo with it and only paid $7.69.

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If you’re in Southside looking for a good, hearty lunch, Ranelli’s should be your go-to place. It’s quick and affordable, and you definitely won’t leave hungry. They also have daily specials, including all-you-can-eat lasagna day on Thursday. Yeah, you read that right.